Thursday, April 18, 2024

State diverts $193M in sales tax to NCDOT, impacts over a dozen Cape Fear transportation projects

The intersection of College Road and Oleander Drive on Friday morning. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
Projects in the Cape Fear region, including improvements to the College and Oleander intersection, have been moved up in construction time in a revised draft of NCDOT’s 2024-2033 STIP. (Port City Daily photo/file)

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — Additional transportation projects in the Cape Fear region have either now been funded or their timelines moved up after additional money was allocated to the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

The state’s budget, adopted in July, includes an updated sales tax revenue forecast allowing a larger portion of money to be used for transportation projects. 

READ MORE: Draft of NCDOT’s latest 10-year plan could fund hundreds of Cape Fear transportation projects

The NCDOT releases a State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) identifying construction funding and schedules for projects over a 10-year period. In May, a draft of the 2024-2033 STIP was made available; NCDOT updated the document this week to reflect a roughly 7% increase in the pot of money, or $5 billion added over the 10-year period.

The state transferred $193 million, or 2%, in sales tax money, for the first time ever, to the transportation highway fund. The number will increase to 4% next year and 6% by 2025, eventually equaling roughly $600 million extra per year.

While money garnered from the gas tax, 38.5 cents per gallon, has remained somewhat steady, there’s been a gradual decrease over the last few years. The gas tax is the largest funding source for transportation projects and brought in $1.7 billion in 2022, according to NCDOT’s financial records, down about $400 million from 2021. 

NCDOT officials said it is actively monitoring the situation of alternative fuel sources but it’s too soon to know the long-term impact on decreasing gas tax revenues. To offset some loss, the state budget allocated sales tax money, incurred from the purchase of vehicles and vehicle-related expenses, for roadway capital improvements.

Funding for the STIP is distributed through three categories: statewide (40%), seven regions (30%) and 14 divisions (30%). The Cape Fear, region B and divisions 2 and 3, receives money from all three, depending on how submitted plans rank in the STIP’s data-driven process.

The Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization identified its top five priorities in September 2020 as the Hampstead Bypass, Independence Boulevard Extension, the interchange at Kerr and MLK Parkway, the interchange at Market, Eastwood and MILK Parkway, and the interchange at Eastwood, Military Cutoff Road.

Additional Cape Fear projects, totaling $236.8 million, originally funded for preliminary engineering now have a construction start date.

Projects scheduled for construction in the second half of the draft STIP still have at least one more round of prioritization to go before funding is determined. NCDOT revises its project estimates and analyzes its current budget every two years to update schedules. Since the 2020-2029 STIP was already overbudgeted, this round was skipped.

Based on the new STIP’s development, which did not include the usual two-year re-prioritization cycle, WMPO was able to “swap” out eligible projects based on local need. Now, WMPO’s 494-square-mile coverage area will have some jobs completed sooner than expected.

A public comment period for the draft of the 2024-2033 STIP will be held in the fall. A finalized version will be approved by the N.C. Board of Transportation in spring 2023.

The following is a snapshot of updates from the draft released in May, covering projects in New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick counties.

Wilmington International Airport will now receive funding for two additional projects. (Port City Daily photo / File)

New Hanover County

Wilmington International Airport

Total funds needed: $1.3 million general aviation apron expansion; $5.6 million for taxiway improvements

An expansion of the general aviation apron was not funded in May’s version of the draft STIP but is now in the preliminary engineering stage. This means the NCDOT will prepare an environmental document and any needed design work. The project is scheduled to be re-evaluated before right-of-way acquisition and $1.3 million is still needed. 

Improvements to ILM’s taxiway were only funded for preliminary engineering in May but now have a construction schedule of 2028, costing $5.6 million.

South Front Street

Total funds needed: $25.3 million

U.S. 421 from the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge to Burnett Boulevard was not funded in May’s version of the STIP. The plan will widen the road from two lanes to four and is now in the preliminary engineering stage. 

There are still no dates scheduled at this time, meaning the project is at least five years out, with $25.3 million needed for completion.

College Road

Total funds needed: $36.5 million, plus $37.7 million for the intersection

Travel time improvements on College Road, specifically from New Centre Drive to Shipyard Boulevard, have a scheduled right-of-way acquisition to begin in 2028, with construction scheduled for 2030. Planning and design work is already underway.

The improvements are authorized in tandem with intersection improvements at Oleander Drive and College Road.

North 23rd Street Roundabout

Total funds needed: $5 million

The creation of a roundabout at North 23rd at Castle Hayne Road was not funded in the prior draft. In the revised version, right-of-way is scheduled for 2025, with construction scheduled for 2027.

Kerr Avenue and MLK Jr. Parkway Interchange

Total funds needed: $26.8 million

The construction of this project moved up a year to 2026. Right-of-way is already in progress.

Pender County will be working with the NCDOT on its planned Hampstead Median Project to build bicycle lanes on a roughly 5-mile stretch of U.S. 17 between Washington Acres Road to Sloop Point Loop Road. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
U.S. 17 in Pender County will be converted into a superstreet from Washington Acres to Vista Lane. (Port City Daily photo/file)

Pender County

U.S. 17

Total funds needed: $35.9 million

The conversion of U.S. 17 from Washington Acres to Vista Lane into a superstreet has moved up its timeline. A superstreet is a simplified name for a reduced conflict intersection. It’s a specific type of U-turn design used to improve safety and traffic flow on a congested highway. Instead of construction in 2027, it’s now slated for 2026. The project will cost $35.9 million, and right-of-way is already in progress.

Brunswick County

U.S. 17

Total funds needed: $14.4 million

A superstreet project is also in the works on U.S. 17, south of Shallotte. The project’s timeline has been moved up for construction to begin in 2025.

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